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Memorial Day Thoughts on National Defense
We can best honor those who have given their lives for this nation in combat by making sure our military might is proportional to what America needs.
The United States spends more on our military than do China, Russia, Britain, France, Japan, and Germany put together.
With the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, the cost of fighting wars is projected to drop – but the “base” defense budget (the annual cost of paying troops and buying planes, ships, and tanks – not including the costs of actually fighting wars) is scheduled to rise. The base budget is already about 25 percent higher than it was a decade ago, adjusted for inflation.
One big reason: It’s almost impossible to terminate large defense contracts. Defense contractors have cultivated sponsors on Capitol Hill and located their plants and facilities in politically important congressional districts. Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and others have made spending on national defense into America’s biggest jobs program.
So we keep spending billions on Cold War weapons systems like nuclear attack submarines, aircraft carriers, and manned combat fighters that pump up the bottom lines of defense contractors but have nothing to do with 21st-century combat.
For example, the Pentagon says it wants to buy fewer F-35 joint strike fighter planes than had been planned – the single-engine fighter has been plagued by cost overruns and technical glitches – but the contractors and their friends on Capitol Hill promise a fight.
The absence of a budget deal on Capitol Hill is supposed to trigger an automatic across-the-board ten-year cut in the defense budget of nearly $500 billion, starting January.
But Republicans have vowed to restore the cuts. The House Republican budget cuts everything else — yet brings defense spending back up. Mitt Romney’s proposed budget does the same.
Yet even if the scheduled cuts occur, the Pentagon is still projected to spend over $2.7 trillion over the next ten years.
At the very least, hundreds of billions could be saved without jeopardizing the nation’s security by ending weapons systems designed for an age of conventional warfare. We should shrink the F-35 fleet of stealth fighters. Cut the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons, ballistic missile submarines and intercontinental ballistic missiles. And take a cleaver to the Navy and Air Force budgets. (Most of the action is with the Army, Marines and Special Forces.)
At a time when Medicare, Medicaid, and non-defense discretionary spending (including most programs for the poor, as well as infrastructure and basic R&D) are in serious jeopardy, Obama and the Democrats should be calling for even more defense cuts.
A reasonable and rational defense budget would be a fitting memorial to those who have given their lives so we may remain free.
Indefinite Detention of American Citizens: Coming Soon to Battlefield U.S.A.
By Matt Taibbi
There’s some disturbing rhetoric flying around in the debate over the National Defense Authorization Act, which among other things contains passages that a) officially codify the already-accepted practice of indefinite detention of “terrorist” suspects, and b) transfer the responsibility for such detentions exclusively to the military.
The fact that there’s been only some muted public uproar about this provision (which, disturbingly enough, is the creature of Wall Street anti-corruption good guy Carl Levin, along with John McCain) is mildly surprising, given what’s been going on with the Occupy movement. Protesters in fact should be keenly interested in the potential applications of this provision, which essentially gives the executive branch unlimited powers to indefinitely detain terror suspects without trial.
The really galling thing is that this act specifically envisions American citizens falling under the authority of the bill. One of its supporters, the dependably-unlikeable Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, bragged that the law “basically says … for the first time that the homeland is part of the battlefield” and that people can be jailed without trial, be they “American citizen or not.” New Hampshire Republican Kelly Ayotte reiterated that “America is part of the battlefield.”
Officially speaking, of course, the bill only pertains to:
“… a person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.”
As Glenn Greenwald notes, the key passages here are “substantially supported” and “associated forces.” The Obama administration and various courts have already expanded their definition of terrorism to include groups with no connection to 9/11 (i.e. certain belligerents in Yemen and Somalia) and to individuals who are not members of the target terror groups, but merely provided “substantial support.”
The definitions, then, are, for the authorities, conveniently fungible. They may use indefinite detention against anyone who “substantially supports” terror against the United States, and it looks an awful lot like they have leeway in defining not only what constitutes “substantial” and “support,” but even what “terror” is. Is a terrorist under this law necessarily a member of al-Qaeda or the Taliban? Or is it merely someone who is “engaged in hostilities against the United States”?
Here’s where I think we’re in very dangerous territory. We have two very different but similarly large protest movements going on right now in the Tea Party and the Occupy Movement. What if one of them is linked to a violent act? What if a bomb goes off in a police station in Oakland, or an IRS office in Texas? What if the FBI then “linked” those acts to Occupy or the Tea Party?
You can see where this is going. When protesters on the left first started flipping out about George Bush’s indefinite detention and rendition policies, most people thought the idea that these practices might someday be used against ordinary Americans was merely an academic concern, something theoretical.
But it’s real now. If these laws are passed, we would be forced to rely upon the discretion of a demonstrably corrupt and consistently idiotic government to not use these awful powers to strike back at legitimate domestic unrest.
House Approves National Defense Authorization Act after White House Drops Veto Threat
The House passed a massive $662 billion defense bill Wednesday night after last-minute changes placated the White House and ensured President Barack Obama’s ability to prosecute terrorist suspects in the civilian justice system.
The vote was 283-136 and reflected the strong support for annual legislation that authorizes money for the men and women of the military as well as weapons systems and the millions of jobs they generate in lawmakers’ districts.
It was a rare instance of bipartisanship in a bitterly divided Congress. The Senate is expected to pass the measure on Thursday and send it to Obama.
The House vote came just hours after the administration abandoned a veto threat over provisions dealing with the handling of terrorism suspects.
Applying pressure on House and Senate negotiators working on the bill last week, Obama and senior members of his national security team, including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, had pressed for modifications in the provisions.
Negotiators announced the changes late Monday, clearing the way for White House acceptance.
In a statement, press secretary Jay Carney said the new bill “does not challenge the president’s ability to collect intelligence, incapacitate dangerous terrorists and protect the American people.”
Specifically, the bill would require that the military take custody of a suspect deemed to be a member of Al Qaeda or its affiliates and who is involved in plotting or committing attacks on the United States. There is an exemption for U.S. citizens.
UPDATE: Obama Has NOT Signed the NDAA (Yet)
There was some confusion regarding the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act. A friend texted me the previous article saying the NDAA had been signed. I tried to do source checking on my phone and found a number of things that appeared to support that report, so I posted. I apologize for fueling this confusion. Thepete brought this correction to my attention.
According OpenCongress.org, Obama has NOT yet signed the 2012 NDAA. Please refer to HR 1540 to stay updated on the official passing of the NDAA.
What caused the confusion was this news report from TPM:
Attorney General Eric Holder confirmed speculation Wednesday that President Barack Obama would issue a signing statement when he makes the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and its controversial detention provisions law.
“We made really substantial progress in moving from something that was really unacceptable to the administration to something with which we still have problems,” Holder said in response to a question from the Wall Street Journal’s Evan Perez. “But I think through these procedures, with these regulations we will be crafting, we can minimize the problems that will actually affect us in an operational way.”
Holder said the language of the NDAA had been moved in a “substantial way” from some of the original language which led the president to issue a veto threat.
If the above report is true and he will be issuing a signing statement, well then I bring your attention to a video of Obama promising America that he would follow the Constitution and that he would never use signing statements as an end-run around Congress (which, from his own words, is not in the President’s constitutional powers).
“All of this comes at a time when America confronts a serious deficit and debt problem which is itself a national security risk that is squeezing both the defense and domestic budgets. Even facing these considerable pressures, including the requirement of the Budget Control Act to reduce defense spending by $487 billion over 10 years, I do not believe that we must choose between national security and fiscal responsibility. The Department of Defense will play its part in helping the nation put its fiscal house in order.”—Defense Secretary Leon Panetta today announcing new Pentagon strategy.
About that Defense Spending
Per the Heritage Foundation’s fear mongering that America cutting defense spending threatens our national security, I offer this:
[Chart Courtesy of Think Progress]
No one even comes close to matching our military spending and technological prowess. The Soviet Union spent itself into insolvency in the 1980s. Why would we not learn from that example?
On top of that, prioritizing a militarized state leads to the mess we’ve seen over the past decade. When a nation cares more about building tanks and weapons systems than anything else, you see widespread violations of civil liberties and human rights. We helped write the UDHR. Let’s show some *REAL* leadership and lose the Napoleonic complex.